Falcons fall foul after Azzurri’s false start

Defending European champions Italy secured their first win of Euro 2024 qualifying with a 2-0 success over Malta in Ta’ Qali, bouncing back from disappointment against England in Naples with a result that extends their unbeaten all-time H2H record against the Falcons to nine matches.

It took Malta until the 80th minute to register their first shot on target in their 2-1 defeat to North Macedonia on Thursday night, but it was a different story this time around for an underdog side seeking the unlikeliest of Euro qualification victories. After only five minutes, Alexander Satariano was played in by an excellent ball over the top, and the striker forced a sharp reaction save from Gianluigi Donnarumma from point-blank range.

After this early wake-up call, Italy began to work their way into the contest, and Alessio Romagnoli’s effort from range on the quarter-hour mark was tipped over the crossbar for a corner. From the resulting set-piece, Mateo Retegui rose highest to head home and give the Azzurri the lead. Yet, despite being behind – and ranked 159 places below Italy by FIFA going into March – Malta were still causing an unexpected number of problems.

Italy knew they needed a second goal to give themselves some breathing space, and the reigning European champions did just that with the half-hour mark approaching, when a ball was fizzed across goal and apparently diverted into the net by Matteo Pessina. He celebrated with all due gusto, though a dubious goals panel may eventually attribute Italy’s killer blow to a Matthew Guillaumier OG.

Though eager not to repeat the mistakes that robbed them of the chance to defend their first European crown at Euro 1972, Italy wouldn’t make any further additions before HT. And with the Azzurri all but over the line, the second half saw very few chances for either side. That said, Guillaumier came close to halving the deficit with just over 20 minutes remaining, when he headed just over the crossbar from close range.

Shortly after that near-miss, substitute Gianluca Scamacca came close to putting the seal on the win, when his overhead kick from a corner was pushed away by a one-handed save from Henry Bonello. Regardless, the Azzurri were able to safely negotiate the closing stages to record a victory which lifts them to second behind flawless England, while Malta are rooted to the foot of Group C, and now victorious just twice in 52 Euro qualifiers this century.

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